Schools reject trust status

12th November 2010 at 00:00
East Lothian to abandon community-based trust plans but wants schools to be more autonomous

East Lothian Council plans to abandon its controversial proposal to put its schools into community-based trusts because a public consultation has found no appetite for the model.

The council's proposals have attracted wide interest at a time when national and local government are seeking radical solutions to cut management costs. Its leader, Paul McLennan, said it would continue to seek methods to devolve more autonomy to its schools.

The local authority still believed in the principle that "it takes a community to raise a child" - it was not just the responsibility of a school.

But a paper will go to the council next month recommending that the community trust model should not be adopted, despite the fact it would have saved pound;2.5 million in non-domestic rates by transferring schools to trust status.

Councillor McLennan told the Managing Scotland's Schools conference in Edinburgh this week: "Many school councils did not believe they had the capacity to take on the management of a school."

He conceded that primaries did not want to follow the trust status route because they feared secondary schools would "subsume" them in this kind of community cluster model.

The conclusion from a "stakeholder group" set up by the council to canvas views from headteachers, parents, community groups, teachers and pupils would appear to echo the feelings of Education Secretary Michael Russell that there is no enthusiasm in Scotland for the "free school" model favoured by Michael Gove, the Westminster Education Secretary.

Although enthusiastic about Swedish free schools, following a fact-finding visit in March, Mr Russell told the conference there was no strong desire for them in Scotland.

Councillor McLennan did not rule out the possible resuscitation of the trust model at some future date. But he stressed that the authority had always been "open-minded" about community trust schools and not committed to the idea. He cautioned that financial imperatives might yet mean the model would have to be revisited - the council faces a pound;100 million deficit.

East Lothian's stakeholder group found support for proposals to give schools more freedom to make local decisions about the curriculum, staffing and resource-spending.

In the meantime, East Lothian and Midlothian councils are still pursuing plans to share central education services, with a potential saving of pound;2 million between the two authorities.

Councillor McLennan said an announcement on the two councils' plans could be made in February. He added that their different political hues - East Lothian has an SNP-Liberal Democrat administration, while Midlothian is run by Labour - presented no barriers. Nor would the sharing of central services offer any impediment to either council offering schools greater flexibility or autonomy.

Colin Sutherland, head of North Berwick High and a member of East Lothian's stakeholder group, explained that in the cost-benefit and risk analysis processes, many had raised concerns that the trust model would mean devolving risk without delivering potential benefits.

Issues such as whether each cluster wanted to organise its own transport had come into play, he said.

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